Archive for April 26th, 2010

Some Examples of REAL Futurology

I hope BoardAd will put this piece the next day after “Experts and Madam Olga.” I have pointed out and will point out again and again that futurologists have nothing to do with the future. It is time to propose some examples.

I pointed out that Ben Franklin, who was the original and ONLY expert in his time on electricity, was absolutely sure that electricity would never have any practical use. The terms he developed were the ones I had to learn when I got my ham license two hundred years later.

The development of what is now called Cold Fusion would change our world the way electricity came to dominate it in the centuries after Franklin died. Right now there are European experiments trying to develop sustainable fusion reactions, like the ones that exist in every active star. It is being done, but the energy produced is a bare fraction of energy put into it.

It was big day when scientists announced that the fusion energy produced was a billionth of the energy required, and another big day when the ratio went down to a million.

Fusion energy is like the suitcase bomb, a topic of abstract discussion but never actually happening.

We live in the fusion age the way Franklin did in his. Communication in his day, as in Caesar’s, was a fast horse, or, under very limited conditions, the heliograph.

And NIGHT! We have no idea today what NIGHT was in Franklin’s time. In scriptoria or libraries the chairs were aligned to get the most out of the sun’s light. Candles were expensive and their use destroyed the eyes of men like Pepys.

One science fiction movie I remember in the 50s had a man go far into the future and find that the technology of writing had taken a giant step: the pages of the huge book he opened were thin metal. In science fiction stories, the businesslike space travelers would have clipboards to write their notes in.

To take just one example, fusion power would change everything about space settlement and getting space materials, Right now the idea of building anything self-sustaining in space is a LONG way away because we have to get things out there.

With fusion energy, “out there” would be as close as Mexico is now, and as the power developed, it would become closer. Space colonies would develop like any other settlements.

But you can’t know what ELSE will develop. The locomotive and the telegraph united the East and West Coasts in a way Franklin would have thought absurd to predict EVER happening.

Throw in a version of a suitcase bomb and the small population needed in each space settlement, and you will have some pretty exclusive communities out there. Diversity is already reeling from the development of the American Prison Yard.